New Zealand⎜8 places you can't miss out in the North island
It's crazy how New Zealand is a rich country ! Due to its culture, its landscapes and its people. We realized that when we travelled but also when we lived with locals and were learning everyday a little bit more to look like them and live like them.
We spent ten months in Maori territory, working and exploring every corner. After a fabulous trip in the South Island, we come back on our 8 favorites in the North Island of New Zealand.
1 - Takapuna and the North Shore
During our WHV (Working Holiday Visa), we spent ¾ of our time in Auckland, especially in the North Shore in between Takapuna and Devonport. We could not avoid the topic because this region is indeed one of our favorite.
This cozy little place is a vibrant city with a chill-holiday side thanks to the beaches and the view of Rangitoto Island.
We loved this relax but professional atmosphere, those hurried but always smiling people, these top level sportsmen and those hardcore coffee drinkers !
Takapuna is only a 15 minutes bus ride from Auckland. Only one main street, Hurstmere Road, with heaps of cafes and small cute shops, which just makes you want to wander, take your time or settle down on a terrace. Behind this street, a huge park invites us to relax with a breathtaking view of Rangitoto Island. This park, which overlooks Takapuna Beach and is surrounded by bars (perfect for a drink !), hosts many events during the summer.
It is a really dynamic city where it’s pleasant either to live or work there.
If you drive 10 minutes to the South, you will discover the small town of Devonport. We loved this proximity but this pronounced difference with Auckland. Indeed, Devonport is located in front of Auckland CBD, just across the bay and only a 10 minutes ferry ride away. This neighborhood with Anglo-Saxon trends is distinguished by its calm and old school vibe. We loved exploring the various cafes, watching boats from the jetty and enjoying the sunset over Auckland city from Mount Victoria.
Our recommendations :
Takapuna Beach Cafe for the perfect service, the food quality and a view over Rangitoto Island
Organic Jam Cafe for the best coffee in town and an amazing manager
Carram Deli & Cafe for the team and a combo coffee + muffin
Bette's Bar & Eatery for their good beers, good wine and a cozy atmosphere
Our favorite secret place :
The Officer's Mess Fort Takapuna for a quiet brunch on Sunday morning, on their sunny terrace facing Rangitoto Island. The excellent Chef Jeremy will prepare you high quality dishes.
2 - The Coromandel Peninsula and Cathedral Cove
Only 2h30 from Auckland, you can find yourself in another world. To get to Hahei and Cathedral Cove, east of the peninsula, we advise you not to take the road along the west coast of the peninsula. Too long and annoying. We preferred the southern route through Hikuai.
Hahei is a small paradise on earth, super busy during the summer. The favorite destination of Auckanders ! So, plan and book your accommodation well in advance if you want to go there between December and February.
We were lucky enough to sleep in our van on the main car park at Cathedral Cove. Be careful, there are only 4 places for self-contained vans (= compulsory certification to sleep for free in authorized places which means the vehicle is self sufficient). Try to arrive before 5pm as people start leaving the car park and you may be lucky to find THE parking you need to sleep there. We wish you all the best :)
There’re different walks and each one is unique. You’ll discover beautiful beaches and bays, you can go diving and kayaking, and the main, you’ll feel good. This place is magical. We stayed four days instead of two because we felt a real feeling of well being. Surrounded by islands like in Thailand with turquoise water and white sand ... What more could you ask for to be happy ?
Our good plan :
If you are lucky enough to sleep in the main car park, you must (yes!) get up around 5:30am and walk to Cathedral Cove Bay (about 30min walk) to admire the sunrise. Magic Moment Guaranteed :)
3 - The Northland : Cape Reinga and Waipoua Forest
The Northland is the part located north of Auckland. This territory is very vast and offers different landscapes between the east coast, the west coast and the northern point. In this great region, we loved the Kauri forest, giant trees aged of more than 2000 years. The atmosphere in this forest is incredible. The only sound of birds and trees breathing, calms you and the intense colors of Kauri leaves dazzle you. Maoris are very proud of this forest and protect it daily, as well as you have to clean your shoes before going in ! Take time to walk in the middle of these giants, you will not regret it :)
4:30 driving up north of Waipoua Forest, there is the magnificent destination of Cape Reinga. The most northern point in New Zealand. The road is really long to get there, for sure, but Waouw ! It's really nice ! Getting to the far north of this country first gives you a basic smile but the scenery is truly breathtaking. The secluded beaches, two oceans that intersect and the famous lighthouse of Cape Reinga. Several walks leave the car park and leave you the choice to escape 30min, 12h or 5 days.
Our good tip :
We did the Northland in three days but we advise you to take four or five days to discover every place and take your time.
4 - Waihi beach
I think you've never heard of this place in New Zealand, even if you live there ! And we are really proud to let you discover it :)
We were lucky enough to go working there during summer. We did not know this city at all, but everyone told us we would like it. And yes, we were conquered. It is actually a village by the sea, living only from December to February ! Many Aucklanders have their vacation houses in Waihi Beach and go during summer to relax.
Waihi Beach has a great beach, good waves and a very famous cafe ! We had the time in two months to discover surroundings with magnificent coves of white sand, turquoise water and waterfalls hidden in the forest.
Our good tip :
We can only recommend and tell you positive stuff about the Waihi Beach Hotel. If you wish to come on holiday or only for a weekend, you will have all conveniences. The hotel to sleep, yoga classes to stretch and/or relax ;) the bistro with an incredible service and high quality food. And finally the pub for epic parties on the rhythm of lively concerts. For sure the place to go if you want full on holidays.
5 - Hobbiton Village
Yesssss, we did it and loved it ! For those of you who may not have seen the Lord Of The Rings or The Hobbit, we introduce you The Shire, that small hobbits village of the masterpiece written by J. R. R. Tolkien and directed by Peter Jackson.
The latter has built a real village to shoot the different scenes and decided not to destroy it to give people a chance to visit it. And honestly, we believed it! The guide also explained all details like some anecdotes of the shooting, which makes the visit really interesting. We don’t want to tell you too much. Keep a little bit of surprise if you go there one day :
Our opinion :
+ : A great visit that put you into the heart of the movie, an expert guide who answers all your questions and lets you know all about the shooting.
- : The price is high ($79 NZD per person) and the tour lasts only one and a half hours. We would have liked to walk in the village a little longer and not follow a compulsory path...
6 - Tongariro Alpine Crossing
We think this is our favorite number one. Tongariro National Park has three volcanoes : Mount Tongariro, Mount Ruapehu and Mount Ngauruhoe. The latter is a volcano better known as Mount Doom in the Lord Of The Rings.
We climbed the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a 20 km trek, rising up to 1886m. You can also climb to the top of the Tongariro at 1967m and/or at the top of the Ngauruhoe at 2287m if you’re brave ! The climb is quite difficult I reckon (Claire) and I had trouble ! But the arrival at the top justifies all your efforts. The view is just amazing. A huge blue lake, then three emerald lakes, a red crater and a view of Mount Doom. A certain emotion seized us when we reached the 1886m.
Details of our itinerary :
We arrived at the car park by 7am and started the trek at 8am after a big breakfast.
We recommend you to do this trek in good weather (at least a clear sky), to enjoy the view all along the way up. If there are clouds or fog, you won’t really see anything.
Generally, people park at the Ketetahi car park and take a shuttle to get them to the other side of the mountain at the car park in Mangatepopo. They make the trek and arrive at their vehicle at the end. As we never do anything like anyone else, we parked at the Ketetahi car park, climbed up the crater and get down back the same way. We saved $70 NZD because we didn’t take the shuttle. We also did it because some people met on the way said there was nothing outstanding on the other side of the mountain. So, if you want to do like us, it’s quite possible and it is a super trek. Just note that this will extend your journey by 4 km.
It takes 7 hours to complete this trek. We made it in 8 hours because I was reallyyyy slow and I also wanted to share everything with you guys so I made many breaks to take Instagram stories :) Hihi.
7 - Rotorua and Wai-O-Tapu
This town is incredible and we left it perplexed to be honest ! We have been warned of some olfactory effects when arriving in the city because Rotorua is in a volcanic area and is one of the most active geothermal regions in the world. So it stinks ! Yes, it's stinking ! It's weird the first time but we get used to it after a few hours (well, not Arthur haha !!!). Rotorua is therefore the region of spas, geysers and intense colors volcanic rocks. Wai-O-Tapu is also a very famous park that you can visit at 30 minutes from Rotorua. It's really something to see. These water points red, yellow or turquoise made us dream. It almost seems like it's unreal.
We liked this Maori culture very present and these atypical places. The Maori population represents ⅔ of Rotorua population. Forests, lakes, mountains, hot springs, this region is as dynamic in summer as in winter and also note that many Aucklanders go down to Rotorua by plane to go skiing at Mount Ruapehu.
A stay in New Zealand without going through Rotorua would not be complete in our opinion.
Our good tip :
The Redwoods Forest is a magical place if you are in Rotorua. As the name suggests, the trees have an incredible red color especially during sunrise/sunset. Go and lose the time of a walk, it is well recommended.
If you visit Wai-O-Tapu Park, you will see a hot spring of hot water called Hot'n'Cold just 50 meters from the entrance. Please do not go there ! The park keeper clearly advised us of this because people come to party at night. He even found broken bottles and needles, at the bottom of the cloudy water…
8 - Mount Maunganui
New Zealand's favorite ! Right next to Tauranga, this city is a bit like Byron Bay in Australia. A summer holiday atmosphere prevails throughout the year ! People are cool, relaxed, go surfing in the morning before working and climb Mount Maunganui at night to watch the sunset. It is a small town with lots of bars and cafes but especially a very relaxed rhythm of life, well, everything we love. The kind of city where you feel good straight away :)
The Mount is only 232m high and it is possible to climb to the top in 30-40 minutes. Do not be surprised to see some runners down there, the locals are very sporty !
Our good tip :
We loved the Astrolabe Brewbar in the main street of Mount Maunganui. A place that perfectly reflects the general atmosphere of the city with plus super happy hours every day and an stunning music playlist !
And you, what's your favorite place in the North Island little birds ?
Leave a comment :)
Cheers, Claire & Arthur